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“It´s necessary to investigate the criminal structures behind Berta´s murder”

Interview with Reinaldo Villalba, member of the International Verification Mission, about the trial over Berta Cáceres murder

“The fact that Berta Cáceres´ relatives and COPINH don´t have a legal representantive in this first trial is something extremely serious. This has been an arbitrary decision made by the Court, as a response of Cáceres´ family insisting on including the masterminds of the crime in this trial as well”, said Colombian lawyer Reinaldo Villalba, president of the “José Alvear Restreo” Attorneys Collective (CAJAR), in an interview with Real World Radio.

The collective is one of the 17 organizations that are part of the International Verification Mission made up by law experts who have been following closely the ongoing judicial trial in Tegucigalpa against the eight men accused of the political femicide against the Lenca people defender, Berta Cáceres, who was murdered on March 2nd, 2016, at her home in La Esperanza.

Villalba was able to be present at some of the hearings last week, and in the interview with Real World Radio he made reference to the “flaws” he saw in the trial that began even though the tribunal was challenged by the lawyers of Berta Cáceres´ family, lawyers who were then excluded from the process. Now, they are being represented by the Prosecution Office, which the daughters of Berta had denounced over irregularities during the investigation.

“The Prosecution Office has not investigated the crime, did not take into account the context in which the events took place, which makes it more difficult to identify the criminal structures behind the crime”, said Villalba to RWR.

He also said that “not all the crimes are being investigated”, such as the illicit association between the hitmen and the masterminds of the crime.

Villalba said that the Prosecution Office has shown, before and during the trial, a complete absence of political will to clear up the crime: “The witnesses were not prepared, the prosecutor was not prepared, and he has failed to make the necessary efforts to obtain all the information, excusing himself by saying he did not have access to adequate technology” to analyze tests that could be obtained with phone tapping, with mobile phones seized from the directors and employees of DESA company.

The CAJAR leader did not hesitate in saying that in this trial, the right of the victims to access justice “has been violated”. Among the violations he highlights: the family requested the Court a copy of the hearing records and these have been denied; the hearings could not be broadcasted live, which has prevented the trial from being truly “public” and has affected the work of journalists; they even banned from the courtroom members of COPINH who are Lenca community members “because of their traditional dresses”, which constitutes a discriminatory attack.

As a response to these violations to due process, the members of the International Verification Mission requested the judiciary to issue a decision about the appeals submitted against the Court as soon as possible; to allow the participation of the victims in the process, including COPINH, to publicize the process and to identify, investigate and prosecute the people responsible for the murder.

Villalba also said that they were surprised that the Prosecution Office “did not investigate in depth how COPINH was a victim of persecution” before Cáceres murder.